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Nance O'Neil
Born Gertrude Lamson
8 October 1874
Oakland, California
Died February 7, 1965 (aged 90)
Englewood, New Jersey
Other name(s) Nancy O'Neil

Nance O'Neil (also Nancy O'Neil) (8 October 1874 – 7 February 1965) was an American actress of stage and silent cinema of the early 20th century. She was married to actor Alfred Hickman, but was perhaps best known for her association and purported romantic affair with the notorious Lizzie Borden.


Early life

O'Neil was born in Oakland, California as Gertrude Lamson. When she decided to become an actress, her religious father, an auctioneer, denounced his daughter in church for going on the stage and asked the congregation to pray for her.

Early in her acting career, she drifted away from the United States under the management of McKee Rankin, who made her a star in Australia. She also received acclaim in London before returning to the United States and beginning her acting career anew.

Stage roles

As well as working in Hollywood, the statuesque (she was nearly six feet tall) O'Neil acted in Louisville, Kentucky with actors such as Wilton Lackaye, Edmund Breese, William Faversham, Tom Wise and Harriet E. MacGibbon. There were regular productions, including Ned McCobb's Daughter, The Front Page, The Big Fight, and a "transcontinental tour" of The Big Fight, which began in Boston, took in New Haven and Hartford, and ended at Caine's storehouse. Jack Dempsey was also in the cast. O'Neil also acted in plays by both Shakespeare and Ibsen in Boston in the late 1920s. On November 29, 1922, Nance O'Neil featured at the opening of the Columbia Theatre in Pittsburgh.

In her role as the title character in the 1906 adaptation of Leah, the Forsaken, she recreated the role made famous by Italian actress Adelaide Ristori. Her performances in Leah (an adaptation of a translation of Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal's Deborah) were described as 'genius' by Fremont Older.


In Hollywood, O'Neil began by working in silent movies, including The Kreutzer Sonata (1915). She successfully made the transition to sound films, appearing in movies such as Ladies of Leisure, Royal Bed, and The Rogue Song (all in 1930), Cimarron and Transgression in 1931, and False Faces (1932), which proved to be her final film.

Sexuality and relationship with Borden

In 1904, O'Neil met Lizzie Borden in Boston. In the early stages of the 20th century, it was still considered socially unacceptable for women to become actresses. O'Neil was a notorious spendthrift, always in financial trouble, and Borden came from a wealthy background. The two had an intense relationship, despite Borden's notoriety at the time for her trial – and subsequent acquittal – for the brutal hatchet murders of her father and stepmother in 1892.

While it has never been definitively proven that the two were intimate – O'Neil was married at the time – the termination of the relationship some two years later in 1906 was a significant loss to Borden. O'Neil was later a character in the musical Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe, where she was played by Suellen Vance. Feminist Carolyn Gage refers to O'Neil as an overt lesbian.

The book Lizzie by Evan Hunter is the chief source of this conjecture. Critic John Corrado dismissed the conjecture as motivated by "the assumption that any woman not married by 30 must be gay". O'Neil's actual sexuality remains unclear.

O'Neil was married to Alfred Hickman from 1916 to his death in 1931. Hickman and O'Neil costarred as Nicholas and Alexandra in the silent film The Fall of the Romanovs (1917).


Nance O'Neil was a resident of the Actors' Fund home in Englewood, New Jersey and died there on February 7, 1965. She was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California in the Columbarium of the Sanctuaries, Niche #10022.[1]


  1. ^ Nance O'Neil at

Further reading

  • John Herbert Gill – Detecting Gertrude Stein And Other Suspects on the Shadow Side of Modernism (ISBN 0-9727091-0-X)

External links

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